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Spotlight on: Erland Cooper

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After a summer of record temperatures and wildfires across the globe, it is clear that change is needed across society to create a safe and habitable planet for generations to come.

The music industry is no exception to this, and an ever-increasing number of artists, labels and organisations have been using their platforms and releases to explore the impacts of climate change and highlight the urgent need for action.

One such artist who has been weaving environmental themes throughout his catalogue is Scottish composer Erland Cooper, whose latest album ‘Folded Landscapes’ offers a poignant reflection on nature, time and space.

We caught up with Erland to hear more about the making of ‘Folded Landscapes’, his thoughts on the role that music and the arts can play in tackling the climate emergency, and what audiences can expect from his performance on Tue 19 Sep at Redgrave Theatre.

Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Was there a specific moment that prompted you to reflect on climate change on this album or has this been a long-standing ambition?

I like to collaborate with the natural world itself or the elements a little deeper than solely field recordings or a sense of place. Using light, temperature, soil, salt water for example in a creative process in some form, permits me to work with factors I have no control over. Rather than writing ‘about’ nature, I’m also writing with and within it. As an example, this can help me create new orchestral string articulations. I’m rather fond of this one written on a score “play with the wow and flutter of unearthed magnetic tape” or “now play backwards, in reverse like a tape machine rewinding”. I’m interested in deep ecology and how humans and the natural world interlink, so there is an ever-present conversation on themes of climate change.

I found the experience of listening to the album moving and thought-provoking; could you tell us about how the album was produced? And are there any new possibilities that performing the material live can provide?   

Thank you for listening. The work is a meditation on time and temperature, along with themes surrounding the narrative of climate change. It’s a multi-movement album over 7 movements. As the music arguably because more hopeful, the fidelity of the audio recording becomes more fragile than ever. During the recording process, the audio recording was placed on a ¼ inch magnetic tape. This then lay sunbathing on my studio roof on the hottest day of recorded time in the UK. This process created sonic artifacts that I have kept in the finished work as it travels through a timeline of temperature rises from the opening note, to its closing. I also recorded classical musicians at sub-zero temperatures in Glasgow. The album is simply a slow glacial ascent across each movement and the recording process mimics the compositional one or visa versa. I just hope as cerebral as that might sound, a listener will be rewarded for their patience, with a slowly thawing, burning hope. Performing live and combining these movements or changes with some music from my Orkney songs might bring a new sense of place or transportation perhaps.

How was your experience collaborating with Simon Armitage and the guest vocalists on the album?  

Working with Simon was remarkably spontaneous. His words unfolded into melody and were sung back again by soprano Josephine Stephenson so quickly, they felt like a swift returning to nest. Dara’s voice and words also resonated in such a way that seemed like they had always been there in the music – sonorous and ancient like the bark of an old tree.

 

I’m interested in deep ecology and how humans and the natural world interlink, so there is an ever-present conversation on themes of climate change.”

Erland Cooper

Could you tell us more about the Scottish Ensemble and what audiences can expect from your show in Bristol?   

For the premiere with a large group of players from the Scottish Ensemble, to open the show, I’d designed an 8ft ice sculpture that would thaw throughout the duration of the concert. As the theatre and audience gradually warmed from 16 degrees to 26 degrees, so too the music thawed along with my sculpture. For this tour, I will play a mix of new and old repertoire with a quartet from the Scottish Ensemble and include some of my Orkney triptych.

Instead of an ice sculpture opening the show, Midori Jaeger will take to the stage. I hope that we can create an intimate but also transportive experience, a sort of micro and macro landscape with the audience, if not just for a moment.

Finally, what role do you think music and the arts can play in tackling the climate emergency? 

The arts, or music more specifically, has the remarkable ability to make people feel something. It is often when people ‘feel’ that they are inspired to make changes. In the words of David Attenborough perhaps we can all waste less, value more, celebrate and cherish the natural world.

 

It is often when people ‘feel’ that they are inspired to make changes.”

Erland Cooper

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